Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Foyer Switches and Lighting

With the opportunity accorded by being forced to pull up the floor in Rudi's bedroom to address the heating conduit problem, I recognized that this gave me the perfect opportunity to address the layout, planning, and installation of all the wiring for the foyer, front living room, and the sunroom. The opening in the wall between the foyer and living room up which the heating stack rises also gives opportunity to run wiring from switches in the foyer and living room to lights in both of these rooms, as well as lights in the sunroom

LEFT: The opening in the foyer wall was original to the construction of the house. Three switches located here controlled the upstairs landing light, foyer light, and front living room light.

RIGHT: New three gang box test fit. This will now house a switch for the foyer light, a switched duplex in the foyer, as well as the Lutron Radio RA 2 master control.

ABOVE: This switch was initially added in the 'twenties or so when the sunroom was built. It is almost 6' high, and located directly against the door trim. I will relocate a two gang box down and to the right (note the rough markings) which will switch one sunroom light, and the outdoor sunroom lights.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Illegal Wiring? Fancy That!

The newly installed octagonal box, seen through the basement floor. A two by four support was cut to length, and installed using a 'custom bent' hurricane bracket (the small metal tab at the end of the support). This box will now support my weight, so a ceiling fan or pendant lamp shouldn't be a problem. The cable is the original wire to the pancake box... note how it lies on top of the attic floor joist, a definite code violation!

This photo looks the other way, with the floorboard now pulled up. The original cable was laid over the joists, a fantastic idea if someone decided to drive a nail to keep the loose floorboard down, and cause a short circuit or electrocute themselves.

Looking down the run of the pulled up floorboard, to a lovely tangled mess of wiring at the end!

Wow! that's three wires laid directly over the joist... and a connection between live wires made outside a junction box! A wonderful smattering of Electrical Code violations!

A photo of the pancake box I removed (see previous post) and the three dinky little screws holding it to the lath. Over time either the screws or the lath would have given way if a heavier lamp had been installed on this box.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doing It Right!

From the 'how not to properly re-wire an historic home' comes the following example:

On the left the landing light was installed with a flat pancake style round box, which has been screwed into the lath after the plaster was broken away to allow it to fit. These boxes are so small that you can't legally make a junction in them, meaning they always have to be at the end of a wire run. The two half inch #4 screws wouldn't support much fixture weight either. Avoid using these if at all possible.

On the right I have removed the pancake box, cut through the lath, and installed a standard ocagon box which is screwed into a 2 x 4 brace spanning the joists above. There is more space in this box, and it can support a lot more weight as it is now screwed into a structural support brace, rather than just the lath.

. . . . . The Wrong Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Right Way . . . . .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do's And Dont's - Some Thoughts

Thinking about re-wiring your historic home? What follows are some of my thoughts on the things one should do, or not do, when undertaking such a project, whether it be done by the homeowner, or by hiring a professional electrician.

DO keep things consistent, in terms of location of outlets, switches, and other electrical boxes. Some may question why I installed all of the receptacle outlets horizontally in the baseboard. The houses original dozen or so outlets were installed this way, so I continued with the rest the same way.

DON'T just do the minimum that the code requires. If you are dropping hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on the project, you might as well do the job right. Put in sufficient (or more than sufficient) lights and outlets, and don't let anyone tell you "that's all you need to do". Once you close everything up, repair all the openings, and put your tools away, you don't want to come back to the job because you left something useful out.

DO make certain you have the skills and experience necessary to undertake the job yourself, or hire a licenced electrician with the same attributes. Many obstacles I encountered, and issues I resolved are things that simply took a bit of thought and imagination to deal with. Re-wiring these old houses is absolutely nothing like wiring a new framed house (trust me, I have done work on both).

DON'T exclude things because you think (or someone tells you) it can't be done. With time, patience, and yes money, anything reasonable can be accomplished. How much extra work was it really to wire in not just one, but three staircase lights in our front foyer? I now have a chandalier, landing light, and hall lights operated via three-way switches at both the bottom and top of the stairscase.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Great Fishing Tales

I imagine I could cut the time it takes to wire the house by stripping the plaster and lath down completely, or making large holes in locations I want to run wire, but since the plaster has stood up well for a hundred and twenty-five years, and the purist in me doesn't want studded and drywalled walls, or lots of repair work to do, so the only thing to do to run wires is the painstaking process known as fishing.

Fishing essentially means routing wire through existing walls generally from unfinished areas, to the boxes that are to be supplied by said wires, all while making the minimal number of openings as possible. Generally it is easy enough to fish a wire down from the attic to a duplex outlet at the bottom of the wall, however there are times that obstructions prevent succesful fishing, and  a small opening must be made to aid in routing the wire.

Determining the correct location is the art, as you have to carefully determine the distance from where you are fishing that the obstruction occurs. Usually measuring the length of the fished wire (accounting for flex), and also knocking on the wall listening for more 'solid' sounds than 'hollow' will get you close, as the following examples illustrate.

I fished down this exterior wall about 5 feet, knocking up and down revealed a solid area, which I opened up exposing the lath.

After cutting out the lath, the cause of the obstruction was evident. The small wooden key between the courses of brick had bridged to the plaster, blocking my wire.

After cleaning the plaster out, I fished the wire into the opening, then continued it down the wall to the outlet in the baseboard. A small wire hook, penlight, and piece of mirror are very useful tools when fishing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Keeping Things Tidy

On entering the main panel, sufficient branch conductor wire must be left in the box in case any rewiring changes are made. Generally just enough wire to run straight to the neutral or ground bus and the hot to the appropriate breaker is not considered sufficient.

I like to leave about 18 inches or so, then simply run the wire up or down anto a long U shape, and then to the bus or breaker, as seen in the picture here. Looks really sweet in my opinion.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Switched GFCI Outlets!

This is something you will rarely see done, but is a great idea. All outdoor receptacles must be ground fault protected, either with a GFCI Receptacle, or GFCI breaker protecting the circuit from the panel.

The typical cost of a GFCI outlet is about $15, and it can protect other outlets as you want further along the circuit. A GFCI breaker protects all outlets on its circuit, yet costs over $100. Obviously the best way is to run a GFCI outlet first in the circuit to protect all other outlets wired beyond it. 

So the other problems are that GFCI's are the ugly decora style, which I refuse to mount on the outside of this fine edifice, and my preference for having outdoor receptacles switched, for safety and to prevent neighbors charging their plug-in hybrids at our house when we aren't around! But GFCI outlets can't be switched on or off, as the outlet would have to be reset each time power is returned.

My solution? A GFCI is wired first in the circuit off the panel, located 'outdoors' underneath the front porch, hidden away from view. From there wire is run to this switch, from which all 3 outdoor outlets will be controlled, one switch for a single driveway outlet, the other switch for two garden side outlets.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cable Holders

This photo shows the full cable run to the attic, in the short space in the basement where they run under the floor joists from the panel to where they turn and run up the inside of the foyer wall. I found these red plastic cable holders, knowing they would come in handy wiring the attic, and for other locations, such as between two main air ducts here, where I didn't have enough room to drill holes through the joists to accommodate the cable. Each holder can carry four 2-wire and two 3-wire cables.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Three Way Action

This is a photo of the newly installed 3 box gang at the foot of the main staircase. Conveniently, the depth from the finish plaster wall to the first layer of brick beneath was 2-1/2 inches, exactly the depth of the boxes. These are the 'old style' boxes with four knockout openings (two back and one each top and bottom) as opposed to the newer boxes with integrated clamps entering the top and bottom near the back.

This box gang was a breeze to install after fishing the three 3-wire cables down from the attic, along the floor joists in the basement, then up the exterior wall between the inside brick layer and the lath and plaster. Instead of using metal knockout clamps with screws, I used these newer plastic one-way spring loaded clamps, which permit the cable to be slid into the box, but not back out.

After the box was installed, I sprayed low expansion foam around it to lock it in place and seal the opening from drafts. I imagine to meet the electrical code I will have to drill and 'tapcon' the gang in place, but that is really unnecessary as the cured foam holds it in place as if it were fixed in concrete.

Another sweet thing is that the switchplate covers the entire opening, so I won't even have to fix the wall whatsoever! And the three 3-wire cables? I will have a chandelier hanging over the staircase, a ceiling light on the landing, as well as second floor hall lights controlled from both the top and bottom of the stairs (and the other end of the hall in the case of the hall lights).